Sunday, June 17, 2012

Designing the Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser

One of the most enduring objects in [Kenji Ekuan's] 60-year design career — which includes the Akita bullet train and Yamaha motorbikes — is the Kikkoman soy-sauce dispenser. Introduced in 1961, it has been in continuous production ever since. ...

It took three years for Ekuan and his team to arrive at the dispenser’s transparent teardrop shape. More than 100 prototypes were tested in the making of its innovative, dripless spout (based on a teapot’s, but inverted). The design proved to be an ideal ambassador. With its imperial red cap and industrial materials (glass and plastic), it helped timeless Japanese design values — elegance, simplicity and supreme functionality — infiltrate kitchens around the world.

More than 300 million dispensers have been sold, in more than 70 countries. In 2007, to mark its 50th year in the United States, Kikkoman issued a gold-capped version, and the company has also given souvenir bottles, bearing the image of Mickey Mouse, to groups of schoolchildren visiting the factory. But Ekuan’s original design persists.
--Leslie Camhi, NYT Magazine, on a timeless design that just works